Snakes & Arrowsby Rush
When Rush issued Vapor Trails in 2002, they revealed that -- even after Neil Peart's personal tragedies in the 1990s had cast the group's future in doubt -- they were back with a vengeance. The sound was hard-hitting, direct, and extremely focused. Lyrically, Peart went right after the subject matter he was dealing with -- and it was in the aftermath of 9/11 as well, which couldn't help but influence his lyric writing. In 2004 the band issued a covers EP that was in one way a toss-off, but in another a riotous act of freewheeling joy that offered a side of the band no one had heard for 30 years. There were a couple of live offerings and a 30th anniversary project as well that kept fans happy perhaps, but broke -- though Rush in Rio was the kind of live album every band hopes to record. Snakes & Arrows represents the band's 18th studio album. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, Superdrag), the record is another heavy guitar, bass, and drums...drums...and more drums record. The title came -- unconsciously according to Peart -- from a centuries-old Buddhist game of the same name about karma, and also from a play on the words of the children's game Chutes and Ladders. Its subject matter is heavy duty: faith and war. From the opening track (and first single), acoustic and electric guitars, bass hum, and Peart's crash-and-thrum urgency in the almighty riff are all present. When Geddy Lee opens his mouth, you know you are in for a ride: "Pariah dogs and wandering madmen/Barking at strangers and speaking in tongues/The ebb and flow of tidal fortune/Electrical charges are charging up the young/It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit/It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it...." At the same time, inside the frame of the refrain, Lee refuses to be conquered in the face of chaos: "One day I feel like I'm ahead of the wheel/And the next it's rolling over me/I can get back on/I can get back on." Alex Lifeson's guitars swell and Peart's crash cymbals ride the riff and push Lee to sing above the wailing fray. Great beginning. "Armor and Sword" contains an instrumental surprise. After an initial ride-cymbal clash, the guitar and bassline sound exactly like King Crimson playing something from Red or Larks' Tongues in Aspic. The theme is repeated on an acoustic guitar before Lee begins singing about the shadowy side of human nature brought on by the many times children are scarred in development. The boom and crackle of electric guitars and bass are all there, but so is that sense of melody that Rush have trademarked as Lee states, ."..No one gets to their heaven without a fight/We hold beliefs as a consolation/A way to take us out of ourselves...." There is no screed for or against religion per se, but a stake in the claim of hope and faith as absolutely necessary to accomplish anything, hence the refrain. Peart beautifully articulates the dark side of life's undersurface; he has been writing the best lyrics of his entire career on the band's last two studio records -- only two in the last ten years. The dynamic works against the melody and Lifeson's brief but screaming solo is a fine cap on it. "Workin' Them Angels" blends the acoustic against the electrics gorgeously, and Lee sings counterpoint to the guitars. "The Larger Bowl" is one of those Rush tunes that builds and builds both lyrically and musically, beginning with only Lee's voice and Lifeson's acoustic guitar. Its shift-and-knot rhythms and spatial dynamics offer the impression -- as does the rest of the album -- that the bandmembers are playing in the same room at the same time (it happened to a lesser degree on Vapor Trails, but here the impression is constant). The sounds -- both hard and soft -- blend together wonderfully. The live feel of the record with its sonic washes and overdubbed guitars and vocals creates near chaos without loss of control. It's like teetering on the edge of an abyss with one eye on both sides of it. Song by song, the notions of tension build, taking the listener to a place where hope and faith are challenged continually, not only in the face of the entire world, but in one's personal relationships -- check "Spindrift." Echoes of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Robert Frost, Matthew Arnold, and The Odyssey are glanced upon, as is The Dhammapada in the Buddhist scriptures -- with more of a thematic than referential purpose. Amid all this seriousness, there is a bit of humor. The instrumental track "Malignant Narcissism" references a line in the comedic film Team America: World Police from Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame. It comes from a line in the film that reveals how terrorists think. It's one of three absolutely stunning instrumentals; another is "The Main Monkey Business," which sounds like the closest Rush have gotten to jamming in the studio in over 20 years. Think of the intensity of 2112 with the musicianship of Vapor Trails, and you begin to get a picture: screaming guitars, deep bass thrum, soaring keyboards, and all those pop-and-boom drums from Peart's massive kit. "The Way the Wind Blows" is Rush taking on the blues in massive metallic style, and it feels more like Cream in the intro. Lee's vocal drives deep inside the lyric -- it's tense, paranoid, yet revelatory. It's about the perverse magnetism of religion and war, and how both are seemingly designed to be cause and effect: fanatical religiosity leads to war. There are different theories on this, but Peart distills them well, as if he's read (but not necessarily completely understood) René Girard's seminal work Violence and the Sacred. The album changes pace a bit with the instrumental "Hope," a largely 12-string acoustic guitar piece played off a medieval theme by Lifeson. "Faithless" is anything but. It's one of those Rush tracks where counterpoint vocals against the guitars and basslines create that unique welling of sound that occurs when the band is at its peak on-stage. The set ends with "We Hold On," a track that expresses the sum total of all the struggles life offers and holds. Here Eliot the poet is quoted directly at the end of the third verse. It's anthemic, with backmasked guitars, Peart playing actual breaks, and Lee's bass holding the chaos together with a constant pulsing throb, guiding the various knotty musical changes back to the center of the verse and refrain, which is the place where the cut just explodes in sonic fury. Snakes & Arrows is one of the tightest conceptual records the band has ever released. Musically, it is as strong as their very best material, without a lapse in texture, composition, production, musicianship, or sheer rock intensity. There are real heart and fire in this album. It was well worth waiting for.
- Release Date:
- Atlantic Uk
Performance CreditsRush Primary Artist
Geddy Lee Bass Guitar,Vocals,Mellotron,bass pedals
Alex Lifeson Acoustic Guitar,Bouzouki,Mandolin,Electric Guitar,Mandola,Guitar (12 String Electric),Guitar (12 String Acoustic)
Ben Mink Strings
Neil Peart Cymbals,Drums,Tambourine,electronic percussion
Technical CreditsRush Arranger,Producer,Audio Production
Richard Chycki Engineer
Andy Curran Executive Producer
Geddy Lee Engineer
Alex Lifeson Composer,Engineer
Hugh Syme Art Direction,Illustrations
Ross Ryan Equipment Coordinator
Andrew MacNaughtan Illustrations
Pegi Cecconi Executive Producer
Nick Raskulinecz Arranger,Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Lorne Wheaton Executive Producer,Equipment Coordinator
Ray Danniels Management
George Eastman Illustrations
Harish Johari Cover Painting
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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After initial disappointment, I really tried to give this CD many more chances. Rush's musicianship is, as always, top-notch, and Mr Peart's lyrics have always been thinking person's poetry. With those things in mind, the music just doesn't flow. Great instrumentals (there are 3), and the opener "Far Cry" is old-school Rush at its finest. Besides those, it feels as though the music was forced to accomodate the unnecessarily-complex and unmelodious lyrics. Sorry folks, but I've been a Rush fan for over 25 years, and I've never had to force myself to try to like their music before. Truly the end of an era.
This may be their most ambitious album in years but not their most accessible. Encompassing much variety from traditional blues riffs to solo acoustic guitar, it may not be appealing to casual Rush fans looking for something like the band's radio friendly hits from the 80's. It is probably their darkest album since Grace Under Pressure (but without the catchy hooks). My two major musical complaints are that some of the songs really strain to fit the verbose lyrics (a little too ambitious) and that Geddy Lee has pretty much abandoned synths in favor of using vocalizations to fill out the songs (not ambitious enough). My only major sonic complaint is the standard one against all rock albums being produced these days: no dynamic range. As part of the never ending loudness wars, they have compressed the hell out of the mix leaving it dull and muddy.
Before I summed up what kind of sound and message Snakes and Arrows had, I wanted to listen to it several times so it has a chance to sink in. Having done that it may still be a little early for a fully accurate review, however I think I have a pretty good idea at this point how these songs will hold up. When I picked it up the day it was released, I got in my car and immediately opened up the package and crammed it into the cd player starting with Spindrift and The Main Monkey Business first. The first thing I was looking for and noticed right away was the sound quality, which had inexplicably vanished on Vapor Trails was back. Not only was it back it was perfect with nice separation of sound and no muddy distortion, just clean crisp and sharp throughout. The Main Monkey Business amazed me the first time I heard it. As others have said it truly is a masterpiece, and quite possibly in my opinion the best instrumental they have ever put together. It’s powerful sounding and just explodes all over the place after a gradual build for the first couple of minutes or so. It spews forth dazzling blends of drums, bass, and guitar with splashes of electric fury. It’s crafted perfectly from the beginning to the end as it calmly fades out. Spindrift is a great dark melodic song with lyrics that seem to fit the music perfectly. The dark feel combined with melody makes for a terrific eerie sound. The type of song you hear going through your head long after you’re done listening to it. The message of the cd of a religious and political nature may be slightly controversial, but with the climate of rampant religious extremism growing at a disturbing pace, it’s quite timely. Peart’s lyrics probably reflect the thoughts of many people today. Even in this modern age, society is peppered with faith in the supernatural. With the superstitions of religion running wild, it’s refreshing to know that not everyone buys in to the nonsense. We’re not back in the Dark Ages after all! Some have said the lyrics project a negative feel, but I think the overall theme is more positive and reflects the reality of society in the present time. I see it as having a nice balance and accurate view with an underlying message of hope in dealing with a sometimes harsh and unfair world. I don’t think the necessary negatives in any way detract from the body of work. Getting back to the music, every song is unique and there are no clunkers. The opener Far Cry reminds me of the typical Rush song with it’s punchy bass lines and catchy lyrics. It was nice to hear an acoustic instrumental (Hope) by Lifeson, which was reminiscent of Zeppelin. You could almost picture Jimmy Page playing that piece. Malignant Narcissism is a quick, funky, kick ass song that’s fun to listen to. The Way the Wind Blows gives a mix of the blues throughout starting out bluesy, and rocking hard in other sections, a nice combination. Nothing to complain about on this cd, but I see some reviewers have. Probably the same people who voted for our current president and believe the Rapture is just around the corner! Could just be the wax accumulating in their ears. From a personal standpoint I like to hear the experimenting and exploring new sounds, which I think they’ve done quite well here. It’s a blend of old and new with the unmistakable Rush sound. It’s got everything I could ask for in a Rush album and exceeded my expectations. The only thing missing is perhaps another ten songs!! We’ll just have to wait for the next one in a few years.
Having been a longtime rush fan, this is the best they have done in years! The lyrics are timeless and topical and the musicianship outstanding! I always hope they put an instrumental on the record, and this has two to make up for not putting one on the last record. Favorite track, BRAVEST FACE
this is one great cd. snakes and arrows a great rush creation. starts out with the track far cry. a powerful opener. and lots of other great tracks. including the track the way the wind blows witch starts with a bit of a blues style. also features a few instermentals including the instermental rocker the main monkey business. working them angels another track that rocks. all the other tracks verry great. the song that closes the disc we hold on is a verry great and touching song. talks about not giving up and having a positive additude./ for a band thats been around for 33 years rush still can make albums that rock. and snakes and arrows is a rocker
I got this album yesterday. I am on probably the 8th listening. My first impression was that this was a boring album. I have read some bad reviews as well as good reviews. After a few listens, the album gets better. It's much better than Vapor Trails which was not my favorite. It does not sound like My Favorite Headache either. Snakes & Arrows has its own feel, unlike any other Rush album. Although none of the songs run together, it has a concept album feel. Musically, the album is superior to Vapor Trails. There are a few guitar solos and lots of acoustic guitar tracks mixed in. There are a few songs I don't like (around 3). But overall, I like 2/3rds of the album. To me the last song of the album, "We Hold On" is boring. The best songs are "Far Cry," "Armor and Sword," "Workin' them Angels," and "The Way the Wind Blows." They have nice heavy riffs. The instrumentals are good too. The vocals are clear and classic. There are no distorted vocals like in Vapor Trails. Anyway, expect this album to grow on you. Some songs I did not like at first, I like now. There are 13 songs so there is a lot to absorb the first few listenings. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. The reason is the lyrics don't really rhyme, and Geddy has to deliver a "mouthful" of lyrics. There are too many words/lyrics. Overall, Snakes & Arrows is a good solid album. You will probably like more songs than you dislike.
This album has to be their best album since Moving Pictures. This is their most concise, focused, and rockin' album since then also. The lead single Far Cry opens the album wit a bang. Working Them Angels, The Larger Bowl, The Main Monkey Business, and Hope are also really good. They really get back to their roots no synthesizers present in this album. Hard rockin' guitar riffs backed by confrontational lyrics. This is classic Rush.
Having been a Rush fan since 1978, I'm luke warm on this one. I'm sure it will grow on me, but it doesn't "wow" me like others have from first listen through. "Maybe my expectations were high". First of all, the style of single "Far Cry" is not reflective of the style of the rest of the CD. Lots of the songs have those dual vocal parts equally balanced and you can't really figure out which is the melody, so you can't really pick it out to determine if you like it. Musically -- or rather instrumentally -- it is very good. The guitar and bass lines are supurb. The drums are perfectly complimentary. But as mentioned above the melody lines and vocals are really lacking. It feels like they tried too hard to force the lyrics into those "non-melodies". And whereas Vapor Trails gave a sense of hope and renewal, Snakes and Arrows is full of cynical pessimism. Of course, when you skim through the CD as a whole, you can see the bigger picture and appreciate the way the songs are laid out. It becomes an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of faint hope and valleys of deep cynicism. In the end, "We Hold On" leaves you right there in the middle where you started. That was a bit of a disappointment. There are few "if any" of Peart's clever lyrical rhyme schemes, double word meanings or classic use of alliteration. Given the state of this music to lyrics imbalance, I am happy to report that there is not one, but three instrumentals on the CD -- each in a different style -- and all of which are very enjoyable. Each is short but worthwhile. One bright exception to all of this is "The Larger Bowl". First of all, it has a catchy melody balanced nicely with the guitar and bass parts. While still lyrically cynical and questioning, the lighter tone of the music make it much brighter. It has a nice, typical Lifeson solo in it as well. Second, it is described a "pantoum" which "thanks to wikipedia" we discover is: "... a rare form of poetry similar to a villanelle. It is composed of a series of quatrains the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. This pattern continues for any number of stanzas, except for the final stanza, which differs in the repeating pattern.The first and third lines of the last stanza are the second and fourth of the penultimate the first line of the poem is the last line of the final stanza, and the third line of the first stanza is the second of the final. Ideally, the meaning of lines shifts when they are repeated although the words remain exactly the same: this can be done by shifting punctuation, punning, or simply recontextualizing." That being said, it is a Skillful and clever combination of lyrics that comes off sounding like a single person singing in "round". For that alone the song is worthy of respect and therefore Peart more than redeems himself and retains his crown as the Master of Lyricists.